Life Imitates Art and Vice Versa

Mar 30 2011
Life Imitates Art and Vice Versa

(Herald Sun Newspaper Melbourne 30/03/2001)

Mostly, he stared with wide eyes, like a zoo exhibit who could not grasp how he’d arrived where he was.
For 35 years, until January 29, 2009, “Ardie” was considered “harmless”. He was an IT geek who had shone as a database administrator in London.
He played tennis weekly. He kept busy, with bike rides and tinkering, as he always had as a boy. There were beers and skiing trips in a life led, from school onwards, under the radar. Ordinariness was his thing.
More than anything else, it seems, he wanted more time with his three kids who - for a stretch - he had cared for full-time. He played beach soccer with them. He would take his daughter to ballet. Darcey would seek him out for hugs.
Then Freeman tossed her off a city landmark - as though posting a letter, according to one of many witnesses. No single act of recent times has haunted us like the "West Gate Bridge girl".
No one could quite explain how this happened, not then, and not during his trial of the past few weeks. Not even the killer himself who, it was said, had no memory of the incident and who now, to keep busy, tends tomatoes in his prison garden. Apparently, the tomatoes are doing well.
Freeman's trial has served to apportion blame. Yet in pleading not guilty - "mad, not bad" as his lawyer called it - Freeman's case was doomed to skirt elements of context that may have helped explain the inexplicable.
How could he visit such terror upon someone so dear and so trusting? Was Arthur Freeman mad, or bad, or sad - or all of the above?
Freeman's own father, after finishing his evidence, looked to the judge.
"You know, I've lost my grand-daughter," he said.
"I'm a grandfather, too," Justice Coghlan replied. "I understand."
Such glimpses of humanity, as well as tears and gulps, leavened evidence that would repeatedly bathe Supreme Court room 11 in despair.
As Freeman stared at nothing in particular, his ex-father-in-law, Wayne Barnes, an old-school ex-cop, glared and grimaced and glowered at him. Barnes often looked set to vault the rail that separated them.
Yet the jury would never hear the words that may have softened Freeman's de facto standing as a monster. They would not hear him say he was sorry.